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Will our Afghan exit strategy look like this?

By Alex Thomson

Updated on 02 March 2010

As another British soldier, from 3 Rifles, is killed in southern Afghanistan, Alex Thomson travels to Helmand province to ask what the west's exit strategy really means.

British soldiers (Credit: Reuters)

He is the second member of the British armed forces to be killed in the area in the last two days.

But as Nato continues its biggest offensive of the war, it has come to accept the conflict cannot be won by bullets but by building institutions that the Afghans can trust.

Our chief correspondent Alex Thomson has been to one of the most lawless parts of Helmand, to look at what the "exit strategy" really means and whether British troops can foster popular trust in the country they will leave behind.

Alex Thomson writes in his blog
Go out just beyond the walls of the Grenadier Guards' fort here at Shawqat and it is possible to get a glimpse of what Nato's exit ticket from Afghanistan could look like.

Could, possibly, maybe and perhaps - with quite a few ifs too.

It is Habbibullah's offices. He, being the district governor here, in a place which has known no government for eight years - simply the Talibs with their mullahs, headed notepaper and their own style of dispensing justice.

And that was popular in many quarters and not without its benefits. Certainly a long way from the awful, corrosive corruption of the Karzai regime in Kabul.

Read Trooper Pete Sheppard's blogs from Op Moshtarak
- IED group caught
- Identifying insurgents on the frontline
- Rest after ten days fighting the Taliban
- Embedded with British troops in Helmand

But the Habbibullahs of this world are in some ways Nato's only real way out of the mess they have shot their way into in this country.

Because if you walk into his offices you see brand new signs for the Irrigation Office, Statistics Office and so forth. Inside, look! There are actual officials actually officiating.

And outside you see two things. First a large crowd of Afghans patiently waiting to have their papers verified.

And across the dusty dirt road a large building site - soon to be a whole new District Government Office. The brickies are working away furiously today.

Can proper government really take hold? Will these apparently diligent officials and the benign Habbibullah in his bulbous black turban really deliver? Or will they line their pockets like so many others?

Possibly they can bring real lasting governance to this place - though there is little history of that. But they need security. And security that Nato for all its firepowers, cannot possibly provide.

But people are worried. Ask those in the queue outside and they complain about President Obama wanting to pull out Nato troops.

They do not believe the new Afghan army can take on the Talibs - still less the police. And why? Because there is so much more to the insurgents than the narrow Taliban ideology.

For more, read Alex Thomson's blog

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